97-year-old Erwin York of Melrose comes from a musical family, and while he no longer fiddles regularly, he still dances every chance he gets.
Erwin’s father, John York, was a fiddler, and several of his children were musically inclined, as well. All the boys played instruments, and Erwin fiddled his first house dance when he was 9 years old. Neighbors would gather and clear out the largest room in a house to accommodate dancing, staying until midnight or 2 a.m.
Later, he was in a band hired to play at Rahm’s Canteen at the junction of Highways 5 and 14 on the east end of town, but it was often not an enjoyable experience because “it was pretty rough,” he said.
In more recent years, Erwin played music at Pleasant Grove with musicians like Sam Younger, Jon Birkey, Bob Younger, Cecil Dayberry, and Delton Rollins. Those are times he remembers fondly and were shared with his second wife, Janice Wears, who passed in 2007.
“Music’s been my life. Man, I enjoy it.”
He relates history while awaiting start time for the Saturday night dance at Mountain View Folklore Society, where he and his dance partner, Gaye Balentine of Melbourne, are regulars. The two met at a dance at Melbourne (he claims to have noticed her first, but she was the one who asked him to dance) and they have been partners for about 11 years since. They used to dance five nights a week, traveling to Salem, Brockwell, Heber Springs and West Plains, Mo., in addition to Mountain View’s American Legion or Folklore Society. These days the circuit is more limited, and Gaye does the driving.
“I’m a go-getter,” jokes the soon-to-be 80-year-old.
Once the music starts Erwin announces, “you’ll have to excuse us” and they take the floor for a two-step, literally dancing circles around the other couples as he guides her smoothly around the perimeter of the polished tile floor. They return to their seats to sit out every-other song, which she had explained they would do because she does not have the stamina to dance every opportunity. He will sometimes invite another woman to dance, or sit with her and observe.
“Everybody’s got their own way of dancing,” Erwin comments while watching. “I love to watch people dance.”
Level of skill is of no consequence in his regard.
“They’re having fun doing it. That’s what it’s all about.”
One of Erwin’s sisters taught him to dance, and his favorites are the two-step and waltz.
The third song of the night begins and the pair immediately rises to take the floor again.
Erwin was born March 13, 1925. In those days, music was an especially important part of life for some.
“It was the only entertainment we had back then,” he says.
He and his brothers played fiddle, guitar and mandolin. John ordered the mandolin and guitar from Sears, and Erwin got his first fiddle from the Shook music store in Batesville.
Asked to name his favorite fiddle tune, he laughs, then says, “All of ’em. I just like all kinds of music.”
Read the full story in the Nov. 23 issue.
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